Rowan Pelling: I'm with Cherie on this one (sorry, James)

You can say what you like about me, but slight my husband and you will get the full Mrs Blair


I don't understand why everyone said Cherie Blair had made a terrible "gaffe" last week when she (allegedly, m'lud) accused Gordon Brown of telling porkies. For those of you who would rather sip hemlock than follow the goings-on of the Labour Party conference, the Chancellor was making a speech in which he said, "It's been a privilege to work with Labour's most successful leader," at which point a Bloomberg journalist says she overheard Cherie saying, "Well, that's a lie." And then some governmental spoilsport denied she had said any such thing, in a feeble attempt to "disappear" the one truly interesting thing that's ever been said at a New Labour rally.

I not only hope and believe Cherie said it, I just wish she'd given fuller vent to her feelings: "You big, fat, lying, scheming, cheating, hypocritical, glass-eyed Scottish bastard" might have afforded better closure. Then Sarah Macaulay/Brown could've responded, "Well, your husband's a sanctimonious, deal-breaking, arse-licking narcissistic, neo-con nancy-boy twat, who likes Cliff Richard, so there!" I think we can all agree that this would be far more grown-up and dignified than their spouses standing on a platform before a TV audience of millions and pretending to admire one another.

What was great about Cherie's outburst was that it showed a political wife standing by her man in a way other women can actually relate to (i.e. not being a tight-lipped doormat whose husband has been shagging anything with a pulse and who's pressured into giving multiple interviews where she says she "understands" he was "under great pressure" because he was middle-aged/buck-toothed/bald/devious/sad/gay/ straight/insignificant/a Liberal Democrat). From Cherie's point of view, Brown is not merely a political opponent of her spouse, but someone who has been systematically undermining her best beloved and therefore deserves the unrestrained wrath of a Sicilian widow with an Uzi.

Nobody doubts that the Blairs, as captured brilliantly in Stephen Frears's film, The Queen, have a genuinely loving domestic partnership. And in such unions a woman will approach any threat to her husband with a Dalek-like simplicity: EXTERMINATE! Tact and discretion don't enter the picture.

Who can forget Pandora Maxwell effing and blinding and fierce as a she-wolf (there's a reason women are frequently compared to sharp-fanged predators) when the police arrived to arrest her husband Kevin for his part in Robert Maxwell's shenanigans? And what woman in living memory has stood by her man and destroyed his enemies as effectively as the ultra-fragrant Gail Sheridan, wife of the Scottish Socialist Party's leader, Tommy? By sheer effort of will and scathing dismissal of her husband's accusers' evidence, she turned the recent libel case in his favour. Whatever we think of the husbands, it's hard not to be dazzled by the nuclear wrath of the wives.

My own "deploy missile" button is far more readily activated by wounds to my husband than slights to myself. I hold such grievances closer to my heart and nurse them longer. No grudge goes relinquished until the glorious day of reparation dawns. My own Cherie-style "gaffe" occurred around 10 years ago, shortly after my husband had been fired as editor of GQ to make way for the younger, trendier, more media-savvy figure of James Brown. It wasn't Brown's fault that my husband had been "let go" and, in fairness to the management, my spouse eschewed Armani for ancient Shetland jumpers and was more interested in Spitfires and Herodotus than babes, footie and grooming. But I became incensed when Brown talked in various interviews of having taken over a magazine on the slide. As far as I know my husband's final ABC sales figure remains higher than that of either of his successors at the magazine. "Let it go," says my husband, "Drop it. Who cares?" To which the only answer is: "I do."

I nursed my pet grievance until the party for the Literary Review's Bad Sex Awards in 1997, where someone pointed out Brown to me. I shadowed him across the room then tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, are you James Brown?" He turned with a winning smile and said, "Yes?" At which my crazy-wife-stalker thing kicked in and I said, "I just want to tell you that you are not worthy to lick the boots of my husband Angus MacKinnon." He looked, momentarily, as shaken as you'd expect after being unexpectedly mauled by someone else's deranged wife. Then showing the resilience, charm and low-down cunning that has made Brown such a media success story, he proceeded to utterly disarm me by saying what a wonderful journalist my husband was. He even told colourful anecdotes from my husband's NME days, which reflected glory on my spouse. My volcano was reduced to a small pile of tepid ash.

When I got home and relayed the encounter to my husband, the blood drained from his face at the mortifying horror of the woman he had married. He hung his head in his hands and moaned, "Poor, poor James."

I'd like to say I have grown more mature since then, but only a couple of years ago I had to be restrained from emptying a glass of wine over a woman who had once been inexplicably beastly to my beloved. Hell hath no fury like the wife of a man scorned.

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